Freedom Circle logo
Freedom Circle

Where Can You Find Freedom Today?

Legislation and government actions that attempt to dictate "moral and proper" behavior

Prohibitionism is a legal philosophy and political theory which holds that citizens will abstain from actions if the actions are typed as unlawful (i.e. prohibited) and the prohibitions are enforced by law enforcement. This philosophy has been the basis for many acts of statutory law throughout history, most notably when a large group of a given population disapproves of or feels threatened by an activity in which a smaller group of that population engages, and seeks to render that activity legally prohibited. Acts of prohibition have included prohibitions on types of clothing (and prohibitions on lack of clothing), prohibitions on gambling and exotic dancing, the prohibition of drugs (for example, alcohol prohibition and cannabis prohibition, prohibitions on tobacco smoking and gun prohibition.

Featured Topics

  • Drugs, War on - Legislation and enforcement actions against consumers and producers of substances that are deemed to be addictive or otherwise dangerous

Notable Topics

  • Prohibition - Laws forbidding the production, sale, transportation or consumption of alcoholic beverages


America's Most Persecuted Minority, by Murray N. Rothbard, The Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Aug 1994
Tells the history of post-millennial evangelical pietists (PMEP) or neo-Puritans and their crusades to ban pleasures such as liquor and smoking
The major problem with the Puritans is not so much that they were a dour lot, but that they were believers in the dangerous Christian heresy of "post-millennialism" ... Since the Kingdom is by definition a perfect society free of sin, this means that it is the theological duty of believers to establish a sin-free society. But establishing a sin-free society, of course, means taking stern measures to get rid of sinners, which is where the rub comes in.
California's Blow Against Property Rights, by Sheldon Richman, Dec 1997
Discusses the concepts of private property and property rights in view of California's law forbidding smoking in bars, beginning in January 1998
But what does freedom have to do with smoking? some people will ask. Smoking is risky to health, they will say, and not just to the health of the smoker, but to others as well. Surely that is grounds for prohibition ... The organized antismokers apparently believe that they have a right to smoke-free air wherever they are ... But they have no right to tell property owners that they may not smoke or permit others to smoke on the premises ... The attempt to deny smokers bars in which they can smoke brings to mind H. L. Mencken's definition of Puritanism: the haunting fear that somewhere someone is happy.
The Egregiously Destructive War on Drugs, by Gennady Stolyarov II, Mises Daily, 30 May 2006
Discusses the adverse effects that the war on drugs has on innocent people who don't consume drugs
I have no sympathy for drug addicts; I wish to argue the case of the innocent, moral, productive people who have never used such substances in their lives but are nonetheless harmed by the coercive illegalization of drugs ... Let the drug addicts ruin their own lives; it is their business, not ours. We may object morally to their conduct, but let us persuade—not coerce—them away from their pursuits. If we try coercion, we will only be imposing far greater harms on ourselves.
Related Topics: Children, War on Drugs, Taxation
End the Other War Too, by Sheldon Richman, 1 Dec 2006
Discusses the case of an 88-year old woman killed by police based on a false report from an informant, quoting from a Radley Balko report covering the increasing use of SWAT teams in drug war raids
It is the very nature of victimless crimes that pushes the police to use unscrupulous tactics. In a victimless crime, such as an illegal drug transaction, there is no complaining witness, no one with an interest in reporting the crime to the police. After all, the buyer and seller willingly participate in the transaction. Thus, the only way the police can detect the criminal activity is to set it up themselves or encourage informants. But the opportunity for corruption in these tactics is immense ... [I]nformants looking for a favor from the police have an incentive to provide false information.
Related Topics: War on Drugs, Georgia
UpdFreedom, Virtue, and Responsibility, Part 3, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Jun 1994
Explains the counterintuitive notion that in order to achieve a caring, compassionate, "good" society it is necessary to allow everyone the freedom to be irresponsible, to do anything they want as long it does not infringe on others' equal freedom
[S]tatists cannot stand the thought that somewhere someone is sinning ... and so the statist is driven by a compulsion to "straighten out" that person ... This was the compulsion that drove Hitler to eliminate the "undesirables" from German society ... [I]t is the same compulsion that drives leftists to support the welfare state—they hate the notion, for example, that some rich person might not be doing enough to assist the poor. And it is the same compulsion that drives those on the right side of the political spectrum—they cannot tolerate any deviation from their standard of moral conduct.
I Love Loosies and the People Who Sell Them, by Sheldon Richman, 10 Dec 2014
Explains how New York cigarette taxes contributed to the police crack down that led to the Eric Garner confrontation (and subsequent death) and suggests doing away with the pursuing of nonviolent persons for "victimless so-called crimes"
[D]e Blasio announced a program to prevent a recurrence ... but that won't do it. Some truly radical things need to be done—such as eliminating the top-down, militarist model of policing, and moving to a decentralized system of community governance. But something significant can be done in the meantime: halt police confrontations with nonviolent persons suspected of committing victimless so-called crimes. These are acts that in themselves violate no one's rights, such as selling or possessing drugs and guns, taking bets, and participating in other prohibited but peaceful, consensual activities.
Related Topics: New York City, Taxation
John Stuart Mill and the Three Dangers to Liberty, by Richard Ebeling, Freedom Daily, Jun 2001
Evaluates John Stuart Mills arguments in his essay "On Liberty", in particular the three forms of tyranny posited by Mill and an element (private property) not emphasized by his analysis
Thus, for example, [Mill] opposed the attempt by some to prohibit the consumption of alcohol by others, insisting that it was an inappropriate restraint on individual freedom of choice. Men of the most honest intentions and goodwill may reason with their fellow human beings and offer their own lives as examples of better ways of living. But it would be an unjustifiable violation of another's personal freedom to coercively attempt to prevent him from ingesting some substance that he—however wrong-headedly from the critic's perspective—finds desirable, useful, or pleasurable.
Kennedy's Libertarian Revolution: Lawrence's reach, by Randy Barnett, National Review Online, 10 Jul 2003
Comments on the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas which deemed sodomy laws to be unconstitutional and in particular on Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion
At the end of the 19th century, as the so-called "Progressive" movement grew, legislation was passed at the state level regulating and restricting economic activity. At the same time, morals legislation became much more pervasive, though often falling under the rubric of "public health"—what historian Ronald Hamowy has called the "medicalization of sin." All this was part of an intellectual and political movement to improve upon the result of personal and economic choices by aggressively using government power to improve the general welfare.
More Drug-War Victims, by Sheldon Richman, 28 Dec 2005
Relates the case of Cory Maye, who killed a policeman while defending himself and his 18-month old daughter during a late night raid from a narcotics squad (his case went back and forth, but he was released in July 2011 after serving 10 years)
What makes Maye's case different is that he was the killer, not the killed. But if the facts are as they appear, he is the innocent victim ... Such horrible events will occur as long as the government asserts power over what we may and may not ingest. In a truly free society it would have no such power. When government enforces laws against consensual activities police terror is inevitable. Since there is no complaining witness in drug sales (as there is in real crimes), police turn to foul tactics to catch lawbreakers. Entrapment and reliance on untrustworthy informants are two common tactics.
Related Topics: Conservatism, War on Drugs
An Open Letter to Bill Bennett, by Milton Friedman, The Wall Street Journal, 7 Sep 1989
Addressed to then Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and appealing to him and President George H. W. Bush to discontinue their efforts to fight drug consumption
You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric ... and imposing heavy costs ... [Y]ou are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore ... Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.
Related Topic: War on Drugs
Piercing through Myths, Lies, and Stupidity, by George Leef, Freedom Daily, Aug 2006
Review of Stossel's Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity (2006)
Politicians love to parade around as great benefactors of the people, but Stossel wants his readers to understand that most politicians are just "busybodies who want to force their preferences on us." Exhibit A is the mayor of Friendship Heights, Maryland, who pushed for an ordinance to ban smoking in any public place, even outdoors. When Stossel confronts the health-zealot mayor, he lamely replies, "Well, we're elected to promote the general welfare and this is part of the general welfare." The pleasant-sounding term "the general welfare" is used as cover for lots of petty tyranny like that.
The Post Office as a Violation of Constitutional Rights, by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman, May 2001
Prompted by the announcement of the U.S. Postal Service eBillPay service (now discontinued), surveys the history of mail service vis-à-vis civil rights, from colonial days to the present
Often the postal muscle was flexed to control public morality ... the Comstock Act of 1873 had provided a penalty of up to ten years' imprisonment for intentionally mailing obscene material. Ominously, 'obscene' had not been defined. But Anthony Comstock, a moving force behind censorship in late nineteenth-century America, had acquired broad power to interpret the Act named for him. He defined obscenity in such a manner as to include birth-control information and discussion of sexual issues, such as whether forced sex within marriage was rape. Thus the post office exercised tremendous power over freedom of the press and the public expression of sexual morality.
The Roots of Individualist Feminism in 19th-Century America, by Wendy McElroy
Introduction to Freedom, Feminism, and the State, a collection of 22 essays edited by McElroy
Moreover, as feminism grew it became increasingly "respectable" in its attitude and goals ... Social purity campaigns included raising the age of consent, the reformation of prostitutes, censorship of obscenity, and the advocacy of birth control through restraint ... the crucial difference of the post-Civil War feminists seemed to be their willingness to enforce morality through law ... later feminists wished to take choice out of morality issues. Among the many implications of this key difference was the post-war feminist tendency to look toward the state for purity rather than toward the individual.
Self-Interest and Social Order in Classical Liberalism: Bernard Mandeville, by George H. Smith, 9 Jan 2015
Discusses interpretations of Mandeville's "private vices", his defense of psychological egoism and the movement to curtail personal vices in England at the turn of the 18th century
On 20 February 1702, Queen Anne, just one month after ascending the throne, issued A Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the Preventing and Punishing of Prophaneness and Immorality ... Here we see one of the most common early arguments for vice laws. Since God (as illustrated in the Bible, especially the Old Testament) inflicts collective vengeance, punishing the many for the sins of the few, rulers must suppress and punish supposedly private vices as a means of protecting society as a whole from the divine wrath of plagues, famines, military defeats, and so forth.
Stop-and-Frisk: How Government Creates Problems, Then Makes Them Worse, by Sheldon Richman, 14 Aug 2013
Considers two recent decisions, from the Justice Department and from a Federal judge, that attempt to ameliorate bad policies enacted in the past, without getting to the root of the problems
[P]oliticians and law-enforcement bureaucrats turn to stop-and-frisk and mandatory minimum sentences. But the only real solution is to repeal prohibition. There's no need for intrusive police tactics or prison terms ... Ask yourself why after so many decades of apparent failure—drugs are plentiful, accessible, and inexpensive—prohibition persists, as if spending more ... or coming up with some new law-enforcement gimmick will bring success. Maybe prohibition has not failed at all. Maybe the purpose is simply to spend the money and expand law enforcement. Maybe all the moralizing is simply a ruse.
Treating Us like Children, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Nov 1998
Comments on an amendment to an appropriations bill that would outlaw Internet gambling, overwhelmingly approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, and discusses the "democratic paternalism" evinced by this action
Much of what government does is intelligible when you keep the sovereign-as-father metaphor in mind. The modern state is based on the infantilization of adults. The parallels are striking ... Parents don't let their children use nonmedical drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine. The government doesn't let adults use those drugs. Parents don't let their children view pornographic or obscene material. In many places, the government forbids adults to view such material or restricts their viewing it. Parents don't let their children gamble. Governments in many locations forbid adults to gamble or restrict their gambling.
What the Martha Stewart Case Means to You, by Harry Browne, 5 Mar 2004
Examines the Martha Stewart insider trading case, including juror and prosecutor comments after the guilty verdict
The whole case came down to the testimony of Douglas Faneuil, a broker's assistant who claims that his boss told him to call Martha Stewart and tell her the head of ImClone was selling, and she should sell, too. Apparently lost in all this is the fact that ... Faneuil originally said there was a stop-loss order and neither ... Stewart or [his] boss ... did anything wrong. What caused him to change his story? The government charged him with being a participant in this venal conspiracy. Not surprisingly, Faneuil [changed] his story [and] the charges against Faneuil were dropped.


The Food and Drink Police: America's Nannies, Busybodies and Petty Tyrants
    by James T. Bennett, Thomas DiLorenzo, 1998
Partial contents: Meet the Killjoys - Eat, Drink, and Keel Over: Lasagna, Egg Rolls, and Popcorn Can Kill - Care for a Drink? - Free Speech: You Gotta Be Kidding! - What's Jeremy Rifkin's Beef?: The War on Our Not-So-Sacred Cow - Whose Life Is It, Anyhow?

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Prohibitionism" as of 2 Apr 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.